Rums Worth Your Support
We've asked a lot of questions of rum this week. Here are some recommendations and recipes.
Most can easily find something to love about rum—or, at least, can appreciate it—but a spirit category so distinctly defined by centuries of transgressions by colonizers past and present calls for critical decision making before ordering a pour at the bar or exploring the cane spirits section of your local liquor store. Let’s face it: avoiding politics in drinks has never really been an option, and choosing to do so is a cop-out, especially when coming from a person who has enjoyed a lifetime of socioeconomic privilege.
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If you as a consumer were made aware that your favorite bottle of Caribbean rum was produced and sold by a European company or conglomerate that provided little to no equity to its employees, most or all of whom are indigenous to the country or countries from which the sugarcane or distillate(s) come, would you still buy it? If it were revealed that a certain distiller had habitually lied about direct ancestral ties to slave ownership in the Caribbean, would you continue to support the business?
These are real-life scenarios that exist today, and these are the exact questions that need to be asked in the face of them. At the end of the day, actively choosing to support oppressive people or entities is a transgression in and of itself—there is no rum out there that justifies doing so, no matter how balanced or delicious. Here are four exceptional rums by producers who actually deserve the spotlight.
Founded by former Starbucks exec Marc Farrell, who was born and raised in Trinidad, Ten to One as a brand is a nod to the original Caribbean federation, which united ten countries into one. For Farrell, the brand’s ethos is centered around the idea that “we are stronger together than we are apart.” Whether you interpret this as life advice or a blending approach, both the White and Dark expressions are exquisite (as was the limited 17-year single cask Reserve), and each release is produced sans added sugar, flavorings, or additives. With a wonderfully complex palate of tobacco, toasted nuts, caramelized banana, and baking spices, Ten to One’s Dark Rum is a masterfully balanced blend of column still rums from Barbados and the Dominican Republic along with Trinidadian rum and high-ester Jamaican pot still rum. Drink this neat or as a float on your next Mai Tai.
Inspired by the Philippines and its distinctive culture, Kasama (which means “together” in Tagalog) is a blend of rums “on a mission to bring a youthful attitude to a young spirit.” Filipina Alexandra Dorda’s debut expression is an agricole-style (yet less earthy) Noble cane distillate rife with bright pineapple notes and aged for seven years in American oak (ex-bourbon)—this rum is floral, soft, and delicious, and it makes a mean Daiquiri.
While we might not associate New York City with exciting cane spirits, HH Bespoke Spirits makes a compelling case for quality stateside rums. HH Bespoke Rum is inspired by the flavor profiles and drinking styles of the 18th century (the brand’s parent company, Harlem Haberdashery, is an embodiment of the Harlem Renaissance) and has racked up an impressive list of awards and accolades for the Black-owned company since 2018 launch of its spirits range. A blend of copper pot still rums aged in both new American oak and ex-Bourbon barrels, HH Bespoke Rum is rich, round, and bursting with notes of orange zest, vanilla, white flowers, toffee, and sea salt.
Equiano was launched in 2020 by global rum ambassador Ian Burrell along with co-founders Oli Bartlam, Amanda Kakembo and Aaisha Dadral. This rum is the world’s first African-Caribbean blended rum and is named for Nigerian-born Olaudah Equiano, a widely-regarded abolitionist and writer who was kidnapped and sold into the Transatlantic slave trade at 11 years old and bought his freedom in 1766 at around age 21. Equiano’s four founders, each of whom “has experienced or witnessed adversity, hurdles and hard times in their own lives and careers,” collectively donate 5 percent of the company’s profits along with £2 of every bottle purchased from the brand’s website to “ground-level freedom and equality projects” on a continuous basis. The inaugural expression is an eight-year-aged dark rum that clocks in at 43 percent and is a blend of molasses rums (column and pot still) from Mauritius and Barbados; aging takes place tropically in ex-Cognac and ex-bourbon barrels, which lends delicate notes of caramel, toffee, and coconut on both the nose and palate.
Two cocktail recipes from Jason…
A classic Cuban cocktail, invented at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, is essentially a daiquiri that relies on apricot liqueur as its sweetening element. Numerous variations abound, including some that call for the unfortunate addition of pineapple juice. Avoid the pineapple juice; stick solely with lime juice. Use a flavorful white rhum agricole from Martinique or a funkier white rum such as Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti. Remember, daiquiris are simple, elegant cocktails. Never garnish a daiquiri.
1½ ounces white rum
¾ ounce apricot liqueur
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rum, apricot liqueur, juices, and sugar. Shake vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
This recipe dates from the 17th century and is beautifully pink. The strawberry syrup and the allspice add a layer of complexity to what is a refreshing summer quaff. Be sure to use a white rum. Be sure to make the strawberry syrup in advancem since it must be cooled completely. Serves 10 to 12. (Recipe adapted from "The Punch Bowl," by Dan Searing)
Freshly squeezed juice from 8-10 limes (1 cup)
2 cups strawberry syrup (see below)
3 cups white rum
3 to 4 cups water
2 to 3 pinches ground allspice
Ice, for serving
Strawberries, sliced, for garnish
Combine the lime juice and strawberry syrup in a punch bowl or pitcher until well blended. Slowly add the rum, stirring constantly. Add the water 1 cup at a time, tasting as you go. Stop at 3 cups of water if you prefer a stronger punch. Season with the allspice to taste.
Refrigerate until well chilled. Serve in punch cups or rocks glasses filled with ice. Garnish with strawberry slices.
To Make Strawberry Syrup, combine 2 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar and 6 to 8 sliced and hulled medium strawberries in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool completely. Strain out and discard the strawberry slices before using. Cover tightly and refrigerate (lasts at least 2 weeks).